Visit To The Exhibition
It was windy when I went.
After a shower, the grass was wet,
windows dripped with rain.
On my way, the air though dry was chill,
but when like a drawing
crayoned by a child, the yellow sun
burst out from clouds in blue sky,
I felt heat on my skin,
and in the gardens I passed by,
daffodils, bluebells, snowdrops
reassured me it was spring.
April, soon to make way for May,
was far from spent.
Got off the train at Central Station.
At last, my visit to the exhibition.
Pre-Raphaelites: Beauty and Rebellion,
the words I read on the poster,
as up the steps to the Walker Art Gallery,
I was glad to feel my feet.
A seagull, sat on the head of a statue
of a Victorian architect, made me stop and smile.
It was worth it what they did,
the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood,
to break away from what was taught at the Royal Academy,
what was expected by the art critics, to create on canvas what they thought was good,
that was true to their truth to nature philosophy.
What moves me in their works is absent in much modern art,
and that is love, love of nature,
The Bible and fine literature, the poetry of Dante,
Chaucer, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Keats,
most of all, women, for those who posed for them they loved,
became their wives, lovers.
Not in the exhibition was Lizzie Siddal as Ophelia,
floating on her back with flowers, drowned in a river,
after Hamlet had scolded her, told her to get to a nunnery.
But there was The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt,
painted on the shores of the Dead Sea.
I stood before the goat with the scarlet cloth bound to its horns,
alone in a dry, cracked wilderness with bones of dead beasts,
and no sign of grass or water.
On the base of the gold frame I read the words from The Bible:
“And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities
unto a land not inhabited.”
It was supposed to cleanse them of their sins,
the congregation of the temple,
to bind the scarlet cloth, the symbol of their sins,
to the horns of the goat,
then to send it out into the wilderness.
Maybe, at least, it made them feel better, what they did.
The Beguiling of Merlin, I was pleased to find and stand before.
Edward Burne-Jones, its painter,
rebelled most against the machine,
its cold wheels, its pounding engine,
its metal serpent hiss, its chimney’s choking smoke.
He did so by illustrating tales of Arthur and his knights,
creating angels on canvas and in stained glass windows.
Out of the exhibition, walking down Church Street,
back to Central Station, I was pleased to note
a change in my perception. I saw like a painter would.
O, my, it must have been good,
to be a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood,
to see like that, not just for one day, like me,
but every day, and I understood
that every canvas they did must have taken them deeper in,
closer to the truth they sought,
gave them a sharper eye, a cleaner vision.
They did not reveal what was hid,
but what was there for any eye to see,
leaf, berry, water, flower, stone,
woman, man, child, bird, sky, tree.
A little boy ran towards me,
smiling, almost laughing,
chasing a pigeon on the pavement.
In the end, I knew the pigeon would escape
for it had wings.
The boy, like the rest of us, had only feet,
bound to the ground.
Now there’s a subject for a painting, I thought.
Boy In Pursuit Of A Pigeon, I would call my canvas.
On my way home from the railway station,
I was pleased to note my change in perception persisted,
for the blossom on branches and the flowers in gardens,
I passed by, I saw as a painter would,
and if I were, I thought, I would have urged my feet home,
to sketch and paint for a new canvas before the light faded.
And as I peeled potatoes and a turnip in the kitchen sink,
I saw them in my new way with my painter’s eye.
Even if life leaves me with naught but sour wine
in a broken cup,
the exhibition taught me, art will always lift me up.